"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

"Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. . . ."Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

"And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

"When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

"When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. . . .

"And fell down and worshipped him: and . . . presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

"And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country by another way." (Matt. 2:1-2, 7-12.)

The above passage is Matthew's straightforward account of the wise men's visit to the Christ child. Through the years, Matthew's simple account has been altered to the point folklore is believed more generally than fact.

While magi is used for "wise men" in the Septuagint or Greek translation of the New Testament, some scholars erroneously associate the magi with members of an ancient Median or Persian cult of soothsayers, astrologers, conjurers or magicians. Some theorize that the wise men or magi went to Bethlehem as government representatives to form political alliances with the newborn king. A popular Christmas carol gives voice to the "three kings of the Orient." And not a few scholars attempt to give meaning or symbolism to the gifts the wise men presented to the Christ child.

These suppositions, interesting though they may be and lyrical as they are in the carols of Christmas, are merely that - suppositions.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote: "Matthew's account of `wise men from the east' coming to Jerusalem and Bethlehem in search of the Christ Child is sometimes recited as a visit of three Magi. (Matt. 2.) Actually there is no historical basis for the prevailing legend that they were from an apostate cult of ancient Media or Persia, or that they were three in number. It is much more probable that they were devout men who knew of our Lord's coming advent, including the promise that a new star would arise, and that they came as prophets of any age would have done to worship their King. It is clear that they were in tune with the Lord and were receiving revelation from Him, for they were `warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod.' " (Matt. 2:12.) (Mormon Doctrine, p. 462.)

In another book, Elder McConkie noted that it would appear that the wise men "were true prophets, righteous persons like Simeon, Anna, and the shepherds, to whom Deity revealed that the promised Messiah had been born among men." (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary 1:103.)

Elder James E. Talmage wrote: "Much has been written, beyond all possible warrant of scriptural authority, concerning the visit of the magi, or wise men, who thus sought and found the infant Christ. As a matter of fact, we are left without information as to their country, nation, or tribal relationship; we are not even told how many they were, though unauthenticated tradition has designated them as `the three wise men,' and has even given them names; whereas they are left unnamed in the scriptures, the only true record of them extant, and may have numbered but two or many." (Jesus the Christ, p. 99.)

Elder Talmage wrote further of the gifts from the wise men to the Christ child:

"The scriptural account of the visit of the wise men to Jesus and His mother states that they `fell down and worshipped him,' and furthermore that `when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.' The offering of gifts to a superior in rank, either as to worldly status or recognized spiritual endowment, was a custom of early days and still prevails in many oriental lands. It is worthy of note that we have no record of these men from the east offering gifts to Herod in his palace; they did, however, impart of their treasure to the lowly Infant, in whom they recognized the King they had come to seek."

Elder Talmage noted that the tendency to ascribe occult significance "to even trifling details" mentioned in scripture, and particularly as regards the life of Christ, has led to many fanciful suggestions concerning the gold, frankincense and myrrh mentioned in Matthew's account.

"Some have supposed a half-hidden symbolism therein - gold a tribute to His royal estate, frankincense an offering in recognition of His priesthood, and myrrh for His burial," Elder Talmage wrote. "The sacred record offers no basis for such conjecture. Myrrh and frankincense are aromatic resins derived from plants indigenous to eastern lands, and they have been used from very early times in medicine and in the preparation of perfumes and incense mixtures. They were presumably among the natural productions of the lands from which the magi came, though probably even there they were costly and highly esteemed. Such, together with gold, which is of value among all nations, were most appropriate as gifts for a king. Any mystical significance one may choose to attach to the presents must be remembered as his own supposition or fancy, and not as based on scriptural warrant." (Jesus the Christ, p. 108.)